Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Rashid Beebeejaun says that Mauritius wants greater participation by Indian companies in developing the infrastructure of this island-nation.

“Our bilateral relations have always been excellent, but we feel that there's much more room for collaboration,” Mr. Beebeejaun said in an interview with The Hindu on Friday at his modest office in the capital city of Port Louis. “We expect more interest from our friends in India in setting up enterprises here.”

Besides strengthening the infrastructure of this Indian Ocean country of 1.3 million people, Mr. Beebeejaun said Indian companies could assist in such fields as renewable energy, shipping, electricity generation, and sewage-treatment.

“I can personally assure you that Indian companies will be welcome in Mauritius,” the 75-year-old Deputy Prime Minister said. “But they should be more present, and more forceful. Certainly, all Indians who come here are made to feel at home. But that's only the first step. The second step is that we want them to assist us in our sustainable economic development efforts, and deliver. But hardly any Indian firms are showing much interest so far.”

Mr. Beebeejaun suggested that foreign direct investment from Mauritius into India “could possibly increase”. The current FDI figure of nearly $12 million annually is the highest of any country in India, and more than three times that of the next biggest FDI provider, the United States.

On trade

The FDI from Mauritius is not necessarily indigenous money but funds routed from other sources that take advantage of this country's liberal tax regulations. India, however, does not figure high on the list of countries from where Mauritius imports consumer and other products. India annually sends about $200 million worth of such goods, including cotton, to Mauritius — barely 10 per cent of this country's total imports. Imports from China exceed $500 million, and more and more Chinese tourists have also been coming here in recent years.

Mr. Beebeejaun spoke a day after winning a tough race in the election for the 60-member Parliament. The three-party alliance led by Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam obtained 41 seats, while 18 went to the leftist Mouvement Militant Mauricien, and one was wrested by an Islamist candidate.

The Deputy Prime Minister looked fit and surprisingly relaxed for a man who had just completed a brutal political campaign. In that campaign, he was maligned by Muslim opponents as not being a faithful Muslim.

Mr. Beebeejaun said he was not bothered by “false and malicious” accusations.

“Some Muslims resented the fact that I did not say that I was a Muslim first and foremost,” he said. “I am first and foremost a Mauritian. I am a man of deep personal faith. I practise my religion. But I believe in sharing universal values. I believe in nation building. I participate in all national functions. I attend Chinese festivals, I attend Hindu festivals, I attend mass at churches. I feel enriched by such exposure to my country's diversity and religions.”

“Mauritius is one place where we celebrate our differences,” Mr. Beebeejaun said. “As in India, Hindus and Muslims and Christians and others live together under the banner of one nation. Those who seek divide us pollute minds and create groundwork for an undesirable legacy.”

He was alluding to the communalism that has long characterised certain sectors of Mauritian society, where nearly 50 per cent of the population is Hindu, followed by other communities such as Creoles, Christians, Muslims and whites of French descent known as Francos.

“We seek to build in Mauritius a nation where every component of society feels part of the national spirit,” Mr. Beebeejaun said. “I belong to a government that represents all our people, and not any one single community.”

Indeed, Mr. Beebeejaun added, Mauritius could point proudly to the fact that, as a nation, it had acquired a reputation for being non-ideological and nonpartisan. Noting the many friendships of his friend and boss, Prime Minister Ramgoolam, with world leaders of different political persuasions, Mr. Beebeejaun said the non-partisanship of Mauritius in world affairs offered it “independence and flexibility”.

On the international scene

There are reports that these elements may be utilised by Mauritius to amplify its voice on the international scene, perhaps through the establishment of a centre for the global south. Such a centre could consist of a think tank on strategic communications and public diplomacy, and also focus on promoting cross-cultural understanding.

While Mauritius has maintained non-partisanship sine its independence from the British 42 years ago, it has also sought to strengthen economic links with other developing nations, particularly in Africa, West Asia, and Asia.

In recent years, Asian giants such as China and India have figured large on the Mauritian radar. China is building an industrial city here to assemble consumer and other goods for re-export to Africa and Europe. Indian leaders visit Mauritius frequently, and Prime Ministers Ramgoolam and Manmohan Singh are known for their warm rapport.

Asked how concerned he was that the growing Chinese economic presence in Mauritius is reportedly irritating India, Mr. Beebeejaun said: “Our relationship with China is not at the expense of India. We believe in friendship and cooperation with all countries who demonstrate good will toward Mauritius.”

Correction

The fifth paragraph of an article “Mauritius wants greater Indian role” (Op-Ed, May 7, 2010) was “The current FDI figure of nearly $12 million annually is the highest of any country in India, and more than three times that of the next biggest FDI provider, the United States.” The figure should have been “$12 billion”.

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